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Parenting Perspectives: As sun sets on summer, we head down to the river

I’m afraid it is the time of year I dread most – the end of summer.

Sure, there are good things happening. My lawn no longer needs mowing on a weekly basis, the Vikings have re-ignited my perennial hopes of a playoff run (9-7 with a Wild Card berth is my prediction), and although the days grow shorter, there is still plenty of sunshine and warmth to be had.

One of my few disappointments related to rearing a family in this area is the terribly short parks and trails season. Each spring, I await the availability of cleared sidewalks and functional water fountains. Each June (and often July), I wait for the Red River to recede enough to make the trails navigable and the pedestrian bridges functional again.

But the pools closing mid-August really gets me down. Luckily, my family has a secret to beat the late-August, early-September heat waves. We go down to the river to play.

We had been going to Buffalo River State Park for years, swimming and hiking and exploring, and one day we saw a trail leading down to the river. When we got there, we found a natural beach with raccoon tracks and clamshells, rocks and crawfish, minnows and bass.

Dylan, my rambunctious boy, was thrilled to swim with me in a “hole” created by the rushing water. Swimming our hardest, we would make headway against the rushing current only to be swept downstream the moment we rested.

Julia, my curious girl, spent an hour digging in the sand, finding special rocks and shells, listening wide-eyed as I explained how clams filter the water for food, not really believing me when I insisted they are animals.

Once there was a giant snapping turtle on the rocks when we arrived. It didn’t feel like moving just because we were there. It allowed us to approach as it dried in the sun, but when we got too close, water streamed out from its shell in a grotesque display of reptilian dominance of the river.

Another time, we saw a smallmouth bass in a few feet of water, holding its position near a rock and allowing us to see a magnificent fish in its natural environment. My wife, Janelle, borrowed my diving mask and got a close encounter with the beast.

There is something fundamentally healing about going down to the river.

My thoughts turn to our ancestors, the people who hunted and gathered along the rivers of the world. Drinking, eating and playing from the same source nourishing the plants and animals around them. I wonder what they would think if they could see the chlorinated ripple of sunshine in a blue-bottomed pool or hear the piercing whistle of a teenager warning a child not to run on the cement deck?

Summer may be ending, but the river will flow on, changing with the seasons and showing us the way.